Your Child’s Identity May Have Already Been Stolen

When was the last time you checked your child’s credit report? According to a recent report on NBC’s TODAY Investigates, identity thieves are stealing baby social security numbers and racking up thousands of dollars of debt without anyone knowing. In fact, there are thousands of victims nationwide – and most don’t get discovered for years.

How is this possible? There is a problem with our current system of using social security numbers (SSNs) as identification

  • First – the way the number is generated. You probably don’t know this but your social security number is basically a code, whereby the first 3 digits indicate the state of birth, and the last 6 stand for an approximate date of birth. With very little effort, thieves can predict social security numbers – even before a child is born.
  • Next – there is a flaw in the way the number is used.
    • When someone applies for a loan, banks typically only check the social security number to see if the credit is good. Most banks do not even check if the name on the loan application matches the social security number because there is a fee to do this.
    • According to a 2011 Carnegie Mellon CyLab report, there is also currently no process for organizations, like an employer or creditor, to check what name and birth date is officially attached to a SSN. As long as an identity thief has a SSN with a clean history, the thief can attach any name and date of birth to it.
    • Finally, because many commercial and public sector entities do not treat Social Security numbers as unique identifiers. It is possible for one SSN to appear on multiple credit files, employment reports, criminal history – all mapped to different names.

How big a problem is this?  Really big. In fact:

  • According to the CyLab report – out of 40,000 children, approximately 4,300 had someone else using their social security number. This is >10%!
  • The largest fraud was for $725,000
  • The youngest known victim was 5 months old.

What are the consequences? According to TransUnion, one of the 3 national credit reporting companies:

  • Identity theft will affect your child’s credit and employment history if the thieves obtain credit cards or even get jobs.
  • If the thieves are arrested for other crimes, those crimes will go on your child’s record.

Things to watch for:

  • Your child begins to receive suspicious mail, like pre-approved credit cards and other financial offers normally sent to adults, in his/her own name.
  • You try to open a financial account for him/her but find one already exists, or the application is denied because of a poor credit history.
  • A credit report already exists in his/her name. If the child has one, he/she probably has been targeted already, since only an application for credit starts a report.

What can you do?

As of June 25th 2011, new SSN’s will be more randomized – which will make this more difficult for identity thieves – but if your child already has one, their number may already have been compromised

  • If you’ve seen any of the signs, it may be a good idea to run a credit check. Note – you cannot use standard free credit check reporting systems to run a check on a child…however, TransUnion has a great site that can help guide you through the process
  • If you see signs that your child’s identity has been stolen, immediately put a freeze on your child’s credit. (State by state information on this can be found here)
  • The Identity Theft Resource Center, for free, will assist parents in disputing all erroneous entries on credit reports.  The agency will also help parents address the possibility that an imposter is using their child’s identity to obtain a driver’s license or escape conviction records or child support payments.
  • Finally, if you suspect your child’s identity has been stolen, call the police and the Federal Trade Commission which oversees and polices this type of activity.  An FTC guide to disputing errors can be found here.

Keeping our eyes open today, will hopefully prevent heartache down the line.


Reference Material

Is Your Kid Breaking Internet Safety Rules at School?

Back in the day, my biggest distractions in class were note-passing and idle doodling. But today, 66 percent of kids ages 8 to 18 use cell phones, and 76 percent have iPods or other MP3 players, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. On top of that, most schools offer some amount of Internet access. That’s why almost all schools today require kids and parents to sign a document that didn’t even exist for our generation: Internet Acceptable Use Policy.

The Internet Acceptable Use Policy explains the school’s philosophy on Internet use and the rules regarding online behavior. It also gives an overview of the consequences of violation and a list of students’ and staff members’ rights. An Acceptable Use Policy should both recognize students’ right to benefit from technology and protect them from harm.

Parents are an important part, says Doris Stephen, education programs assistant in the Education Technology Office of the California Department of Education:  “They need to know what their children are being taught in school and how they are going to use the Internet. They need to know that the children are doing it in a safe manner.”

Here’s what to do if your child’s school district doesn’t require your signature, or if you’re a little hazy about what you signed at the beginning of the year.

Get a copy of the policy

Check the school’s website. Many schools post their Acceptable Use Policies online so parents and kids can easily reference them. If it’s not there, call the school and request a copy or ask your child to bring one home.

Discuss it

Talk about the policy. Discuss scenarios that might seem innocuous but are actually prohibited. For example, does your child’s school prohibit using Internet resources to lobby for a political candidate? Can kids visit file-sharing sites and download music? Are there any penalties for using profanity in email sent via the school’s computers? Help your child read between the lines too: If the policy prohibits harassment, ask, “What constitutes harassment?” Talk about your child’s typical Internet use at home and ask whether these things are prohibited at school.

Most important, discuss the consequences of violating the policy. Most policies include penalties that range from warnings and account suspension to expulsion and legal action.

Be respectful

Because Acceptable Use Policies include a lot of language about what not to do, they can seem to imply that kids aren’t to be trusted. But a good policy is centered on the educational value of the Internet and keeps free speech in mind. So don’t just discuss the things your child shouldn’t do; talk about all the useful ways they can use the school’s technology to get more out of class.

Post it somewhere accessible

Whether it’s on the fridge or saved as a shared document in your Google Docs accounts, keep the policy on hand. If it’s top of mind, your child may be more likely to follow it and avoid getting into trouble that could affect his — or someone else’s — future.

7 Signs Your Kids are Ready for Sports

You may think your kids are ready for organized sports, especially when so many of their peers are signing up. But many young kids don’t develop the physical, emotional, or mental skills it takes to compete until second or third grade.

Kids who start too soon may end up feeling frustrated or humiliated, or suffering physical injuries. Most experts agree that 6 is the youngest age to start playing organized sports, and many recommend waiting until your kids are 8. But kids develop at different times, so readiness depends more on their size, skill and maturity than on age.

To make sure you’re not jumping the gun, look for the following signs before considering sports for your kids. They will be ready for sports when they:

  1. Show an interest in sports. There’s no reason to push your kids into team sports if they have no desire to play. In fact, forcing them can make them resent all organized sports. So if your kids aren’t ready yet, let them run around outside with their friends; it will give them the exercise they need until they find sports they’d like to try.
  2. Are strong and skilled. If your kids are smaller and weaker than their peers, or if they can’t throw, bat or catch very well, they’ll be at a huge disadvantage. They’ll also be more likely to get injured. Before you send them onto the field to compete with kids who are naturally more able, spend another year practicing with them in the backyard so they can build their physical strength and skill.
  3. Can understand and follow directions. Processing and acting on information from multiple sources – coaches, parents, teammates and bossy siblings – is a real challenge for many young kids. Most won’t have that ability until they are 6 or 7, at the earliest.
  4. Focus on an activity for two hours. When you see young kids picking weeds or staring up at the clouds during practice, you know they don’t have the attention span to stick with an entire game. The ability to sustain focus comes with age, not experience, so it’s better to wait until your kids mature.
  5. Get the concept of teamwork and taking turns. Playing organized sports means sharing the spotlight and giving everyone their turn at bat. Hogging the ball – and everyone’s time and attention – won’t make your kids very popular.
  6. Get along with other kids. If your kids have trouble navigating social situations or working in a group at school, they’ll have an especially tough time with the dynamics and competitive nature of a team. Give them more time to build up those skills off the field.
  7. Can handle losing without losing it. Winning is easy; losing can be devastating. If your kids tend to cry or get angry when they lose at sports or board games at home, they are probably not ready for a graceful defeat in public.

Organized sports are a great learning experience and an excellent way for kids to stay fit – but they’re also supposed to be fun. Your kids will enjoy themselves more when they’re ready for it.

June 2011 Sensory Friendly Movie Screening

We first heard about “Sensory Friendly Movie Screenings” a little over a year ago, in a post by our Special-Needs Parenting Expert Rosie Reeves. For those of you not familiar with this fantastic program, AMC Entertainment (AMC) and the Autism Society have teamed up to bring families affected by autism and other disabilities a special opportunity to enjoy their favorite “family-friendly” films in a safe and accepting environment.

The movie auditoriums will have their lights turned up and the sound turned down. Families will be able to bring in snacks to match their child’s dietary needs (i.e. gluten-free, casein-free, etc.), and it’s totally acceptable to get up and dance, walk, shout, talk to each other…and even sing.

To borrow from Rosie’s post: “It can be challenging enough to bring a child to a movie theater – they are dark, the sound is very loud, there are tempting stairs and rails and they are expected to sit still and stay quiet. When a child has special needs all these elements and many others can prove too daunting to even attempt such an outing. And yet getting out, being with the community and sharing in an experience with an audience can be invaluable for just such children – and their caregivers, too”.

This June Kung-Fu Panda 2 will be screened on June 4th. To find a theatre near you, here is a list of AMC theatres nationwide participating in this program.

Coming July 2nd: Cars 2


Editor’s note: Kung-Fu Panda 2 is rated PG for sequences of martial arts action and mild violence. Please check the IMDB Parent’s Guide for a more detailed description to determine if this movie is right for you and your child.

Has My Child Reached Teeth Whitening Age?

It might sound like a crazy question but in today’s day and age, children in as young of age groups as 7-10 are in awe of the bright pearly white smiles they see in Hollywood. From television shows and movies, to celebrities and musicians, it’s not shocking that kids start noticing super white smiles. As they go through stages of wanting to be like their celebrity role models you might be surprised when they want the same thing! Let’s be honest, 7-10 year olds are surely not of teeth whitening age!

If you are using an over-the-counter product for teeth whitening, they are typically not recommended for kids under the age of 12. These products are things such as gels, whitening strips and pens. Children are normally permitted to use products such as toothpaste, floss or rinses that have a whitening property. Always check the labels to verify safety for your child’s age. The main thing you should look at is the concentration of the bleaching agent in products.

One thing you should know is permanent teeth are not as white as baby teeth. Eventually your kids will grow into their own special set of teeth that have a unique shape, color and size. If your child has extremely stained or yellow teeth, you should consult your dentist about his or her options.

We recommend 18 years of age is the earliest kids should have professional teeth whitening. There are several reasons for this but the main reason has to do with the fact that the pulpal of the teeth are enlarged and can be damaged prior to this age. To avoid irritation of the gum or pulp of the tooth, 18 really is the best age to consider bleaching your child’s teeth. In the meantime promoting a well balanced diet is very important to the health of your child’s teeth.

Happy Bleaching!

Springtime Agonies for “Allergy Kids”

My son HATES spring. It’s absolutely bottom of his favorite season list – despite the Mid-West’s frigid winter temperatures. But he has good reason: seasonal allergies (aka hay fever, nasal allergies, allergic rhinitis, etc); and though the term encompasses all seasons, spring is often one of the worst for allergy sufferers.

Given the terrible winter weather this year, I had begun to think spring would never arrive in our region. But in the past couple of weeks it’s definitely made its presence known: sneezing, runny nose, itchy eyes and dark under-eye circles (allergic shiners). If you’ve never had allergies you might think, “so what?” However, for people with serious allergies, these symptoms can become a major issue. The agonies started when our son was a toddler, originally with severe nose bleeds – so bad that the upstairs bathroom looked like a scene from an episode of CSI. It turned out the nosebleeds were triggered by allergies which caused inflammation in his nose. We’ve since had the prick test on his back and he is sensitive to many indoor and outdoor allergens, but spring’s flowering trees and bushes really bring on the agonies.

Unfortunately, the little guy didn’t have much of a chance for an allergy-free life. Both my husband and I have allergies, and since the condition has a genetic component his likelihood of also getting them was greater than 70% (if only one parent has allergies the chances of children also having them are about 1 in 3). And to make matters worse, we compounded his genetic disadvantage by moving into an allergy-prone environment.

All Hail Knoxville, TN

Local allergists told me that we live in a particularly bad area of the US for allergies. The spring flowers and grasses are beautiful but, as my son sees it, they also have an evil side. When I checked into this recently I found that my city actually rates #43 (out of 100) on the list of 2011 Spring Allergy Capitals (see the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America) or about three-quarters of the severity of the #1 city, Knoxville TN. But given the symptoms we still have I’m not sure that gives me much comfort, especially since if I were to drive 115 miles east or south I would hit the #7 and the #2 cities (Dayton, OH and Louisville, KY respectively). I think just being on the list should give pause to any allergy-sufferers considering a move to one of these locations. At least don’t be surprised if your child didn’t have allergy symptoms before but develops them once you move into an area with high pollen levels.

Managing the Multiple Symptoms

Since his diagnosis we’ve been able to mostly stave off the nosebleeds through daily use of allergy medication during the most challenging seasons, along with occasional application of a nasal lubricating cream. But spring allergy symptoms continue to be an issue: frequent sneezing and runny nose; eyes so itchy and swollen he couldn’t see and had to come home from school.

We’ve tried all the major brands of allergy medicine: Claritin, then Zyrtec, and now Allegra. They all seem to work fairly well, though some doctors feel some are more potent than others. Since they didn’t completely manage his symptoms during the peak spring pollen season our pediatrician added Singulair last year, which works differently than the other medicines. I’ve been taking Singulair for my allergies for a few years with good success, so this seemed like a great idea for him. However, everyone responds differently to medications and, unfortunately, my son showed behavior and mood changes after going on this drug. Since these effects had previously been reported with Singulair we decided to take him off it and the changes subsided. As with any medication, just watch your child for any unusual or reported side effects after starting a new medicine. For his eye issues we’ve been using Pataday, which has been excellent. It’s quite expensive but we went with it anyway due to the severity of his symptoms. He was so miserable that he didn’t even resist having drops put in his eyes!

An Ounce of Prevention

Since there’s currently no cure for allergies, experts recommend that we work to limit exposure to problem allergens such as pollen, dust mites or pet dander. The following sites give comprehensive allergen prevention strategies: Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America and AskDrSears. The latter helpfully breaks the strategies down by both convenience and expense.

A number of strategies have worked for us, particularly during springtime:

  • Keeping our 2 dogs confined to the lower floor using an indoor invisible fence pod (plugs into electrical outlet – you can buy from your invisible fence company)
  • Using a portable HEPA air filter in the “dog zone” – and a filter on the central air system
  • Keeping windows and doors closed during high pollen periods
  • Cutting our son’s hair shorter during allergy season – and washing it before going to bed
  • Changing his clothes after coming in from playing outside
  • Having school keep him indoors during recess and after school when symptoms are very bad

The process continues to be a challenge and we probably have to visit the allergist again as he started breaking out in hives on occasion over the past few months, which apparently is often caused by reaction to foods or medication. On to a new chapter in our allergy saga!

What strategies have worked for you in managing your children’s allergies?